Shifting Gears

Once upon a time, a middle-aged woman took a break from work to rest and assess some health issues.  For six months, she barely worked at all.  Instead, she cultivated friendships, attended Bible study, exercised, read, wrote, and rested.  For another six months, she gradually eased back into the working world. Through trial and error she learned what amount of work was enough and what was too much.

Or did she?

I’m entering my third year here at the little house by the river. That first fall I had so much time on my hands!  My house was so clean and uncluttered! I prepared meals fairly regularly. I took time for coffee and lunches with friends. I traveled to see family regularly.  I exercised several days a week.  I started most days with Bible study and blogging.  It was a lovely season.

I’ll admit I was a little bored.

I’m not bored any more.

My new challenge is to offer myself grace when my house is cluttered and in need of a deep cleaning, when my husband and I have to scrounge through the fridge to find leftovers — again, when I turn down one more offer to meet a friend for coffee, when it’s been weeks months since I’ve seen some of my family, when I miss a full week of exercise, or when I’ve failed to make time for daily Bible study and prayer.  Because, honestly, this has become the norm for the moment.

I know it’s just a moment.  I agreed to a heavier course load for a semester — not forever.  We are taking two international trips in the next four months, but then we probably won’t go anywhere again for years!  It’s a season, just like many other seasons we have weathered.  It’s just for a moment, but in the moments, it feels overwhelming.

So, instead of taking time to pause, reflect, and pray, I spend those moments online ordering travel pillows and earplugs.  In place of going to the gym, I fit in an appointment for immunizations.  Rather than meeting friends for coffee, I spend the morning grading papers and preparing for the next class.  When I could take a day trip to visit family, I find myself on the couch recovering from another hectic week.

It’s a season, I tell myself. Yet life is made up of seasons, is it not?  Do I wait for the next season, when I’ll presumably have more time, to fit in the disciplines and pleasures I love so well?  Or do I adapt so that I can taste them even in this season?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

I’m in the sixth week of this semester.  So far — yes, it’s Tuesday — I’ve managed to start my week off with worship, connections at church, a completed stack, time with my husband, a couple of prepared meals, an hour of Pilates, a physical therapy session, and, this morning, an hour of Bible study, reflection, prayer, and blogging.  Ahhhh. Now, see, isn’t that lovely?  Why don’t I keep this rhythm every day? Every week?

Well, because I am human.  I am bound to be buried in the to-dos very shortly.  After all, I am not only planning for tomorrow’s classes and grading yesterday’s papers, I am also preparing my students for the fact that I will be gone for a week.  As if that weren’t enough, I’ve also planned to see seven private students this week and travel to see our granddaughter this weekend.

As my husband would say, “Every bit of it is good stuff!” I love being in the classroom!  I love reading student writing! Watching students learn is what feeds me!  And, certainly, squishing that little granddaughter is second to no other activity in my life!

Yet, I remind myself, if I want to be able to do all of the stuff that I love, I must take time to oxygenate myself first. I can’t be an effective wife, mother, friend, or teacher, if I let myself get completely depleted.  And that’s what happens when I neglect my personal disciplines and my social interactions.  Let’s be honest — the messy house isn’t gonna kill anyone. And, truly, there’s enough cereal and chunky soup in the kitchen; no one is going to starve.

I’m learning, guys.  Something has to give.  If I want to teach more and — gasp — travel, I’ve got to shift my expectations of myself.  In the past, I’ve sacrificed self-care in order to maintain an orderly house and the appearance that all is well.  What I’m learning is that being truly well is less about appearances and more about my daily disciplines and meaningful connections.

Hang in there with me folks, I’m shifting gears and trying to enjoy the journey.

I Timothy 4:8

 

 

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The Essential

I rushed into yoga this morning, grabbed my mat, found a place on the already crowded floor, and assumed the position — lying  flat on my back.  The instructor likes us to start supine. We spend several moments listening to our breath and quieting our minds.

I noticed right away that my mind was a little extra frantic this morning. I heard her voice in the background saying, “Quiet your mind….Connect to the breath…” but I heard my mind saying, “But…but…but…what about the bills that need to be paid? What about the fact that I did such a mediocre job teaching yesterday? What about the election? What about our children?”

“Connect to the breath.  If it’s helpful, repeat to yourself, ‘inhale, exhale’.”

Sometimes while we are in this stage of the yoga class, the instructor will say, “Set a purpose for your practice today.  What is your intention?  What would you like to focus on?” I typically pick a prayer that I want to repeat over and over again.  Usually it is something like “Thank you.” or “Heal me.”  I repeat this phrase over and over again while I breathe.  It’s my attempt — albeit often feeble — to turn my focus away from myself — my body, my pain, my worries, my agenda — and aim it in the direction of God.

Today, when I noticed that extra layer of anxiety, I asked myself, “What is going on? Why are you so amped up?”

“Hmmm,” I answered. “Could it be that you have made yourself so busy that you haven’t been spending time in prayer and Bible study? Again?”

“Mmm-hmmm.”

I was totally busted.  As much as I ‘set my intention’ for life — my intention to be balanced, my intention to take time for self-care, my intention to put God first — I get caught in the immediate and forget the Essential.

The immediate screams out for me — the email from the student, the phone call from the husband, the laundry, the grading, the projects.  And, you know, the essential sits quietly on the sofa, sipping tea, waiting for me to realize that it’s sitting right there, waiting for me.

The immediate whines and begs, grabbing onto my arm and dragging me down.  The essential says, “You know, you always feel better after we spend time together. I feed you. I listen.  I care. I nurture.”

Yes, You do. You were patient enough today to wait for me while I did my yoga, went to the chiropractor, prepared for tomorrow’s class, and made myself some lunch.  And then, when I finally sat next to You on the couch and picked up the book You’ve been holding out to me, the first chapter said, “The Sabbath is a basic unit of Christian time, a day the Church, too, tries to devote to reverence of God and rest from toil.”  It’s like You couldn’t wait to blurt it out — You had to speak while you had my attention. I chuckled to myself, put that book aside and opened my devotion to the page that said, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Yes, yes.  It is Yours, is it not?  It is not mine to worry about.  I don’t have to be frantic.  I can take the time to ‘devote reverence to [You] and rest from toil’.  I can. I must. It’s essential.

Mark 6:31

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

Reflection

After long absences from my blog, I never know what is going to come out of my fingers when I finally make the time to sit down.  Will I start writing about why I haven’t written sooner?  what we have been doing with our time? what kind of students I am working with? How my health is (or is not) progressing? Or how I am looking forward to what’s coming up in the next few weeks?

I don’t know.   Today I don’t feel a drive to write about any of the above, but I do feel compelled to get back to my blog.  I love the discipline of writing every day, and I love how it causes me to reflect on how I am living my life. Writing causes me to pause and take stock of what is happening and what I think and feel about it.

Last weekend, I visited our two daughters who are currently living in Boston.  We did some sightseeing, yes, but we also had chunks of time when we were just together. We rode in the car from the city center to where we were staying.  We visited coffee houses. We sat together on the couch and watched the Olympics and reality TV.  I found myself, in those moments of sitting with my adult daughters, reflecting on how my husband and I parented our children.  From time to time my musings became audible.

“I wish I wouldn’t have freaked out over the little things so much.”

“I wish I would’ve taken more time to show you kids how to do more things.”

“I wish I would have stepped into some situations more thoughtfully.”

My girls were very gracious.  “Mom, you had three babies in three years!  We were a lot to take care of!  You did your best!”  “Mom, we turned out pretty good.”

They’re right.  We did have three babies in three years and we were very busy for many consecutive minutes.hours.days.weeks.months.years.  And, our kids are pretty great.  We are blessed.

But, you know, twenty-five years flew by pretty darn quickly.  And sometimes I even wished that the moments would speed by. Parenting is hard work. It is exhausting and sometimes overwhelming.  And, in true Kristin fashion, I muscled through.

At one moment last weekend,  in the proximity of my girls, I heard myself say out loud, “You know what I wish the most? I wish I would’ve taken more time to reflect. I wish I would’ve been still long enough to say to myself, ‘How is this working out?'”

They were silent, so I said, “If I could give you one piece of advice right now it would be that: take time to be still and reflect.”

It took me a chronic illness and a six-month vacation from work to realize the power of stillness and reflection.  What began as a crutch to help me hobble through the unchartered territory of unemployment turned into a vehicle that helped me explore my thoughts and feelings about my current reality.  In exploring those thoughts and feelings, I have also explored my past and its impact on my life and the lives of those that I love.  These explorations have, I believe, contributed to my healing — if not my actual physical healing, then certainly my mental and emotional healing.

Over the past eighteen months, I have gradually transitioned from not working at all to working about 20-25 hours a week. This was part of the goal all along.  I love teaching,  and God has provided so many opportunities for me to work with students that don’t require me to have a full-time position. However, in transitioning back to more regular work, I don’t want to flush the lessons I learned during the stillness.

This is the challenge of real life, isn’t it? How do I find balance?  How do I get the fulfillment that comes from work while also taking the time to care for myself? How do I care for myself through exercise, healthy eating, and time for reflection, without overlooking the needs of the people closest to me?  How do I attend to the needs of my family while still finding time to connect with friends?  How do I make time to connect with friends and still have regular time to connect with God?

I sure don’t have a simple answer.  However, what I have learned is that, for me, one way to take the pulse on how I am doing with finding that balance, is to take some moments to reflect through writing.  So, here I am, returning and reflecting so that I can continue to heal and continue to grow.

Psalm 116:7

Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.

Thoughts on a Sabbath

I’m sitting at the corner table in The Common Cup, the coffee house located in the basement of the church building where our congregation meets.  I often sit here in the mornings when my husband, a pastor, preaches two services on a Sunday morning. I like the dedicated time to think, grade papers, or write before I go upstairs for the second service.  The baristas brew me an extra strong pot of English Breakfast and I sip on it while I sit listening to quiet worship music and working on whatever is in front of me.

Today, I don’t really have any work.  I finished teaching a summer course on Friday.  I don’t start teaching again for almost a full month.  Yes, I have plans and syllabi to write.  Yes, I have grade books to set up. I have plenty of work for the week ahead of me, but today I am resting.  I am resting from duties to spend my day blogging, reading, puzzling, and breathing.

I highly recommend it — this kind of resting.  I do realize that many of you have determined to observe a Sabbath every week.  You regularly take a day to turn away from work to rest for a full day.  I mean, it’s Biblical.  However, it’s been a difficult concept for me to wrap my brain around.  For a long time, the concept of Sabbath felt like an obligation rather than an opportunity.  I have felt guilty for not taking a Sabbath rather than thankful to have one.

Perhaps you can relate.  My husband and I have long been church workers.  Making Sunday a Sabbath is a challenge for church workers.  How do you find rest on a day when you have a sermon to preach, lessons to present, needs to respond to, and expectations to meet?  Some church workers manage to do it; I’ve never gotten the hang of it.

Or, perhaps your weeks are so full with work and family obligations that taking a full day to rest simply seems impossible.  So many of my weekend days have been crammed full of grocery shopping, laundry, house keeping, errand running, and catching up.  Some of you manage to do all of those tasks and still find room for a Sabbath rest; again, I haven’t really figured it out.

Even now, when I am no longer working full time, I still struggle to keep a day completely free from ‘work’.  I usually slip in a little bit of grading, a little bit of editing, a smidge of house work, or a trip to the grocery store.

However, one thing my chronic illness has taught me is this — our bodies (at least my body) need time to recover, time to heal, time to restore, time to prepare for what is next.  If I power through, if I fail to rest, fail to take consistent breaks, my body often shuts itself down and mandates a day or two of bed rest.  This has happened over and over again; I am starting to get the message.  If I preemptively take a Sabbath, as God’s Word has recommended, then I don’t crash as often.

Not only do our bodies need consistent breaks from work, but also our minds, our spirits, our souls. On Friday, after five weeks of teaching a composition class, I got caught in a rain storm — twice.  I was soaked to the skin, but I was determined to run a few errands before I went home.  I was tired before I started, but I pressed on. I stopped at four different places before I considered going home.  I was hungry.  I was exhausted.  I was cranky.  Instead of taking consistent rest during the five weeks of teaching, I had tutored; I had taken weekend trips;  I had pushed myself to my limits.  Later Friday night when my husband got home from a business trip, I really wanted to welcome him back, but my fatigued, depleted spirit was edgy.  My tone was sharp.  My glance was surly.

We expect a lot from ourselves.  We push ourselves to do just one more thing — one more email, one more errand, one more social engagement.  But guys, what we really need so that we can more fully experience our lives — fully engage with the people in front of us, fully care for the people we love, fully attend to our work — is regular time to recover.

It’s funny, I was writing this post this morning at church.  I saw my computer draining of battery, but I thought, I can probably finish before it runs out.  I couldn’t.  My screen went black, so I had to rest from my blog about resting.

I went to worship.  I chatted with friends after.  My husband and I stopped at the grocery on the way home. (Insert eye roll here.) We ate some lunch, then I worked on my puzzle while listening to a book on tape.

Since it was time for my afternoon tea, I grabbed my laptop, moved outside to the patio, and sat in my reclining lawn chair to finish my musings.  It’s after 4pm and I truly have rested from work most of the day (if you overlook the groceries). My aspirations for the rest of the day?  Right now they include staying on this lawn chair a little longer.  I haven’t thought beyond that.

I could get used to this.

Leviticus 23:3

“‘There are six days when you may work, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, a day of sacred assembly. You are not to do any work; wherever you live, it is a sabbath to the Lord.

Creativity

Just under two years ago, as I said goodbye to teaching in St. Louis so that I could move to Michigan with my husband, I imagined that I would take four to six months to rest and recover and then I would find a job and get back to some kind of ‘normal’ life.  My limited view couldn’t see what God had planned for me.  I couldn’t imagine how He would allow me to experiment with different types and levels of employment so that I could see for myself what would be fulfilling, draining, energizing, depleting… I couldn’t envision a life where I would have so much freedom to learn and grow.  I couldn’t see how He could provide for us financially, so He had to show me.

In the past two years I have worked for Reuters as an election agent, tutored students in English, writing, reading, study skills and test preparation, participated in intensive reading and writing instruction, edited everything from a young adult novel to a Master’s thesis on cancer-treating drugs, scored standardized math assessments, and taught college-level writing and literature courses.

And though that sounds like a lot, I’ve had the luxury of making new friends, participating in a regular Bible study, joining a new church family, working out consistently at a local gym, reading dozens of books, visiting family across the state, exploring Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti with my husband, and providing a refuge for my daughters as they navigated some difficult life situations.  Not only that, I’ve had time to experiment with medical strategies — discarding some, embracing others — to find ways to feel better both physically and emotionally.

Much of that journey has been chronicled in this blog. I think I started writing imagining that I would arrive at a destination — that I would someday get to “The Next Chapter.” However, I think the theme of this chapter is learning to live in the process, to trust that God knows what is coming next and He is preparing me for it. I’m learning to not look too far ahead, but to enjoy each moment.

This morning, I was supposed to be doing some online scoring, but ETS contacted me and said that due to reduced volume, I was not needed and would still receive half of my pay for the morning.  So, I stayed in bed reading a great book a little longer than usual.  I got up, straightened the kitchen, made my tea, and picked up my old faithful devotional, Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore.  After having set it down for a while to study Hosea and Breathe, I turned to the first page to start my third journey through this book.

Was I surprised that the message applied directly to my life? Not really.  I’m starting to expect it.  I no longer get stunned when I see a message like this: “What God is doing in your life right now may not make sense to you, but it’s not because He’s nonsensical.  It’s because He’s creative…In His wisdom God knew [His creation] was good because He knew what was coming next.  He knows what’s coming next for you…Give God room to be completely creative.”

Two years ago, I had no idea what was coming next.  It was pure obedience (plus exhaustion and a touch of desperation) to move here with no plan. Granted, He had made it quite obvious that we should take this leap of faith by providing a position that was custom-crafted for my husband in Michigan, which we both call home, but still, for a chronic planner and do-er, it was a totally new experience.

What God was doing in our lives did not make sense to me, but it wasn’t because He was nonsensical.  It was because He had a creative response to my self-destructive soldiering ways. He had information that was beyond my scope.  He knew what was coming next. And in my exhaustion, I was willing to allow him the room to be completely creative.

Guess how creative He is — He’s giving me the opportunity to teach high school students from across the country and around the world this summer at the University of Michigan. I’ll get to speak into their writing process and, hopefully, into their lives.  He’s allowing me to lead three sections of writing at Concordia in the fall — a three-minute walk from my kitchen to my classroom. And – gasp – He’s orchestrated an opportunity for my husband and me to chaperone a group of students to Israel for two weeks in January!

Could I have imagined all of that two short years ago? Not in a million years.  I was picturing myself shelving books at the public library. Not that that would’ve been a bad gig; perhaps that’ll be the next Next Chapter.  For now, I’m pretty content in this chapter and grateful to its Author.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord

“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you a hope and a future.”

 

 

 

Catch phrases

Jennifer Rothschild in her Bible study on the book of Hosea pointed out for me that I am ‘bent on turning’ away from God and going my own way.  Now, Priscilla Shirer has called me to “resist the urge to continue”.  Let me see if I can unpack what this phrase means to me.

I’ve spent significant white space in this blog discussing my ‘soldiering years’ — my long period of working hard and believing that I was tackling all of life’s challenges on my own, thank you very much. Although I was rescued from that life of self-sufficiency by my chronic illness, the pattern of striving is deep in my DNA and hard to leave behind.  I still try to turn back to that old way of living, filling my days with work and achievement in order to –let me be completely honest –fool myself into thinking I have some kind of control over my life.  Even though I have been given this opportunity to live a life that has a slower pace, fewer demands, and plenty of time to take care of myself, connect with God, and care for the people around me, I still am bent on turning to what I know best — soldiering.

Now, sure, it looks a little different than it once did.  Instead of power walking down the hall in an a-line skirt and power heels intimidating poor little freshmen into tucking in their shirts and getting to class on time, I now sit at my desk in sweats and a t-shirt grading papers, finding new students, and applying (yes, it’s true) to even more teaching gigs. However, the underlying drive is the same — it’s a need to be busy, to prove my worth, to make myself useful, to be in control.

It’s a rhythm that has felt comfortable to me for quite a while.  Although I don’t always like working as hard as I do, the rhythm makes me feel safe.  It assures me.  It’s a way I’ve come to know.

Priscilla Shirer in Breathe: Making Room for the Sabbath, reminded me that the Israelites, too, had found a rhythm that was familiar during their 400 years of slavery in Egypt.  They had worked hard and long under the fearsome watch of the taskmaster.  They had labored in the heat with very little rest for their whole lives.  You might think it would be easy to leave it all behind and live according to the commands that God gave to them, but old habits die hard.   Perhaps one of the hardest challenges for the Israelites, and for me, was believing that God would provide for all of their needs even if they took time to rest.

Shirer points out the manna example.  God provided the Israelites with enough manna for each day — their ‘daily bread’. They were to collect only what they would eat that day, and not try to store up extra.  They were to trust that the next day He would provide again.  But you know, they hadn’t had plenty to eat in a long time, so they figured it would be wasteful to throw the extra away.  They kept it and woke up the next day to find it rotten and worm-infested.  They were given a double portion on the sixth day so that they could observe the sabbath on the seventh, but you know some of those Israelites still went out on the sabbath looking for manna.  You guessed it — they didn’t find any.  They didn’t find any because they didn’t need any;  God had already provided it.

Those dumb Israelites.

Cricket — cricket.

Yeah, I’m dumb, too.

All that time I was soldiering away, God had already provided for all our needs.  Even though I might like to think that I somehow made the life of my family healthier, stronger, or more provided-for, I was really in all my soldiering making our experience as a family worse. I was overlooking God’s provision.  I was failing to take a sabbath. I was forgetting to turn to Him with all my needs.  And even though sometimes I got a glimpse at what was happening, I couldn’t resist the urge to continue.  My pattern was comfortable.  It felt safe. Putting down my weapons, falling to my knees, and admitting my helplessness before God was, at that time, out of the question.

It’s still tempting for me to think that admitting my helplessness before God is out of the question.  But guys, the past couple of weeks have begun to shift my thinking — is it out of the question for me to not admit my helplessness before God?

It’s got to be.

It’s got to be out of the question for me to think that I can possibly work hard enough to make myself useful, to prove my own worth, or to be in control.  It’s got to be beyond my imagination that I would think that I know more than God or that I am above the need for a sabbath. It’s got to be completely ludicrous for me to believe for one minute that I can do anything at all that God hasn’t already done for me.

It’s got to be.

And yet, I’m bent on turning…turning back to that old life, that old comfortable way. I’m just like the Israelites.  So, when I see myself turning, and you know, I almost always do, I’ve got an opportunity to resist the urge to continue.  I can stop dead in my tracks as I’m heading back to Egypt.  I can say to myself, “Really? You wanna go back there?”

I can admit to myself that all my soldiering was a facade for a frightened little girl who didn’t believe that her Father had gladly given her the kingdom.  But He has, guys, He has given us His kingdom. Let’s resist the urge to continue.

Luke 12:32

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.

Marginally Speaking

Sometimes when God nudges us to make a change, we make that change and then slowly over time notice the benefits.  Other times, God gives us an immediate indicator that we are heading in the right direction.  That happened for me this week.

If you read my recent post, Margin, you know that I decided, while reading Priscilla Shirer’s Breathe: making room for sabbath, to turn off my phone from 8pm to 8am every day. I made that decision just two days ago while sitting right here on this futon doing my Bible study. I blogged about it then went through my day.  I got home Tuesday night, played all my turns on Words With Friends, checked Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, then turned off my phone a bit before 8.

I wasn’t quite ready to go to bed, so I sat next to my husband on the couch, crocheting and watching “Bizarre Foods” (I only recommend watching this show if you would like to curb your after dinner eating — yuck!).  We watched and laughed at its ridiculousness.  Then, I crawled into bed and, as usual, settled in to read.

Typically after an evening of watching TV and constantly checking my phone, I can read for thirty to sixty minutes before falling asleep.  Not Tuesday.  Nope.  I got into my comfortable position, opened my book and made it through two or three pages before I had to surrender to sleep.  I slept hard.

Then, I woke up around 7:15am.  Usually, the first thirty to sixty minutes of my day are spent in bed checking email, messages, Facebook, etc.  But it was 7:15, and I had made a commitment to keep the phone off until 8am, so I crawled out of bed, showered, made my breakfast beverages, and dressed for a day of Bible study, teaching and tutoring.  Around 8,  I checked messages, emails, etc. I noticed that I had missed a call, so I messaged the friend who had rang me, talked to my husband for a few minutes before he left for work, then settled in to prepare for Bible study.

The phone rang.  The same friend called to explain why she had called — to talk through the fact that her day was not going the way that she had planned.   She’d had an interruption that was causing her to spend an extra two hours on the road to retrieve an item that had been left on our campus.  I commiserated with her then hung up to go back to my Bible study about margins.

I started reading then thought to myself, “You’re dressed.”  Yes, that’s right, I was dressed and ready to leave for Bible study and I didn’t have to leave for another 30 or 40 minutes. I turned back to my reading.

“You know, you could  get that item and meet your friend half way.” That one wasn’t me.

How do I know?  Because I argued back, “but I’m supposed to be at Bible study in half in hour.”  I went back to my reading.

“What would happen if you were late?”

“Well, I’m always late.” Yes, I picked up my phone, made arrangements, and started driving.

So, here’s my analysis of what happened.  If I had not decided to add in a margin to my life — some white space — by turning off my phone from 8p to 8a, I might have still been lying in bed when the friend called.  I would not have been dressed. I would have been reading Facebook posts and playing WWF.  I wouldn’t have had the space in my day to drive twenty minutes to help her out.  But, I did make that decision.  I did put the margin in my life.

And the very next morning after making that decision, God provided a tangible reward — an opportunity to use that same time, the time I’d been filling up, to help a friend.

You might think that my friend is the only one who benefitted. Not true.  The whole time I was driving I was thinking to myself, “Really?  You’re gonna respond to my decision that quickly? You want to affirm this decision that strongly?”  I was flabbergasted. I was stunned to notice God working in my life in such a way.

And here’s the nugget, guys.  I noticed because I wasn’t face-down into my phone. Yes, this is hugely convicting and embarrassing.  I have spent far too much time in my phone.  I’ve known this.  I just didn’t want to make a change.

And, I’ve got to be real honest here and say that it’s been just as hard as I thought it would be.  After 8pm last night, I kept mentally reaching for my phone to check for messages, see if everyone was ok, or if I’d missed anything.  I had to continue to remind myself that I had already turned it off for the night and that everyone would be ok without me for twelve hours.

The hardest part, however, wasn’t the lack of checking in, it was the awareness of all the thoughts I have routinely shoved down by occupying myself with my phone.  With my phone turned off, lots of ugliness creeps to the surface — regrets and questions about how I have parented/continue to parent, worries about finances, personal insecurities, and all sorts of stuff I have chosen not to think about.  With my phone down, I can not ignore these nagging concerns.  I am forced to look them in the face.  It’s not pleasant, guys, to look at all that stuff.  It makes me feel yucky.  I don’t like feeling yucky.

Last night after I put my book down, I closed my eyes because I thought I was ready for sleep. I was tired, but as I lie there trying to sleep, the ugliness started playing out on my mind screen.  “Ugh,” I thought, “why!?!?!?”  I felt overwhelmed.  In desperation I said to God, “Is this real?  Is my memory real? Please replace these images with what is true!”

Did you see that?  I didn’t shove the images down.  I held them up to God and asked for His reality check.  Why was I able to do that? Because I’ve put a margin into my life.  I’ve left some white space, expecting that He will step in and fill it.  I am acknowledging that the story I am writing is rough and needs the hand of the Master.  I need Him to speak into my life — to offer encouragement, correction, and guidance.  I haven’t been leaving room for that.  I’ve been writing all the way to the edge of the paper.

I’m a mere two days in, guys, but this change is so important that God is already dramatically stepping in.  It’s like He’s been standing by waiting for the opportunity.

 

I Samuel 3:10

“Speak for your servant is listening.”

 

 

Beloved, regardless of wallowing

This must be anti-wallowing week!  What is it about February that induces the blues like no other month on the calendar? Yes, it’s cold.  Yes, it’s gray.  But, come on, it’s only 28 29 days.  How bad can it be?

Well, for an experienced wallower, it can be pretty bad, can’t it?

And I’ll admit, I’ve been a wallower this morning.  I woke around 8am.  I always feel the worst right when I wake up.  Every joint and muscle aches, and I feel somehow attached to my bed.  It typically takes me 30-60 minutes to convince myself that I will feel better once I get out from between the sheets.  Today it took closer to 90.  I didn’t have to stay in bed, but I chose to lie there, read Facebook, Twitter, and email, and take my turn on a dozen or more games of Words With Friends.

That, my friends, is professional-level wallowing.

I am not saying that to judge anyone out there with chronic illness — I know it’s rough, and I know that sometimes bed is where you need to be — I am just saying that for me, today, my first 90 minutes were spent wallowing.

It sounded something like this: “I don’t feel good. I ache. I’m tired. I’ll just lie here a few more minutes. I don’t have anywhere to go this morning anyway. My first appointment is at 3.  I need the rest. I’ll get up soon.”

Thank goodness I have a bladder. It recognized the situation and fired off a red alert.  “Emergency! Emergency! You need to get out of bed now!!”  I can always count on my bladder.  It forces me to pause in my wallowing.

Once I had taken care of the first order of business, I made my smoothie and my tea, and I sat down to my work for the day.  I was able to help a student on a couple of documents she needs to submit for a class and interact with a few friends on Facebook before I got a notification from a friend reminding me that my husband had given the message today at Concordia’s chapel service.

And then I was tempted to resume wallowing. “Seriously, Kristin, you couldn’t get yourself up and dressed in time for a 10:30 chapel service? What’s the matter with you?  You aren’t that sick!  Stop wallowing!”  You got it, my wallowing was perpetuating more wallowing!

And right then I had a choice — go down that path, or turn.

Today, I turned. If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you will know that I was once again ‘shocked’ that my Bible study for today directly applied to this situation. The words “I’m sorry” jumped right off the page at me.  Of course there were many other words, but I think “I’m sorry” was bolded and in 24pt font.  And what am I sorry for?

I’m sorry that I have forgotten to be content in all circumstances.  I’m sorry that I have forgotten the blessing of this next chapter — yes, I am not the person I once was, but that gives me an opportunity to not be the person I once was. You know what I mean?

I am no longer functioning at my best when I leap out of bed at 5:30am to conquer the world and everyone in it for fourteen or more hours.  I am now at my best when I amble into my day at a slower pace, when I notice who is posting what on Facebook, when I am aware of what is happening in the world, when I can offer encouraging words to a graduate student I have never met face to face, when I can sit next to my dog, read a devotion, and reflect on the thoughts I am having and the way I am feeling.

I didn’t take the time for any of that in previous chapters. I was busy trying to achieve, trying to manage it all, trying to be perfect.

I needed to pause from my wallowing this morning to remember that I was not meant to be “be-perfect”; I was meant to be “beloved”.

I am beloved even when I wallow. I am beloved when I stop wallowing.  Nothing I do can change the fact that I am beloved.

Hebrews 13:5

be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Struggling Still

So, I’ve been sitting here with my laptop open for quite a while now.  I’ve finished my Bible study.  I’ve responded to several student emails.  I’ve looked at and managed my calendar for the week. But I’m not feeling inspired to write anything.

I have this problem.  I want to be authentic — to not sound cheesy, or preachy, or packaged in any way.  I want what comes out of my fingers to be a genuine reflection of where I’m at.  And, to be honest, ‘where I’m at’ is in my pajamas, sitting on a futon in my office, covered in warmed flaxseed pillows with my dog squished up next to me.  It’s a pretty good life, actually, but it’s not much to write about.

Yet, I’ve committed to writing more.  So, I’m going to write.  And then, for the most part, I’m going to spend my day being still.

I still struggle with this — with stillness, that is.  In my former life, I didn’t have very many times of stillness.  Days, weeks, months, and years, were full of activity — of doing, going, achieving, completing, accomplishing.  So, sitting here halfway through a Monday morning , still dressed in the same clothes I slept in with no intention of changing anytime soon, still seems odd.

I’m telling you, my Missouri friends would not recognize me.  I had a colleague who used to say, “I wish I understood how you get so much done.”  Me, too, friend, me, too.  I’ve said before on this blog how by this time of day in my former life I would’ve showered, put dinner in the crock pot, transported three or four kids to their various schools, tidied my classroom, reviewed my lesson plans, met with a family and their child to craft an educational contract, set up an appointment to observe a teacher, tracked down two delinquent students in the hallway, taught one section of composition, attended chapel, and managed any number of other administrative tasks.

Today? I’ve played my turn in about ten games of Words with Friends, started a load of laundry, finished last night’s dishes, drank some tea and a smoothie, heated some flaxseed pillows, sat down next to my dog, completed my Bible study, and sent some emails.

The rest of my day includes some lesson planning for the upcoming semester and editing a short paper for a student. Period. Ok, fine, I will try to do some Pilates. But seriously, I’m not doing anything else.  I’m not leaving the house.  At all.

And why am I struggling with this?  This is the new reality that was Hand-crafted for me.  This is the Next Chapter I’ve been blessed with.  It’s not boring. It’s not unsatisfying.  In fact, it is exactly what the Doctor ordered to put me back on the path to health.

Yet the do-er in my still sometimes feels like I should be accomplishing something, checking more off my list, making a difference, proving my worth. There it is. Something in me (and in you?) tells me that I don’t have worth unless I have accomplished something in my day. My value is in direct proportion to all the things I have managed to complete.  But ladies and gentlemen, that is a lie.  It’s a lie that I chose to believe for a long time.  And I believed it really well.  So well that I denied myself the opportunity to be still and recover from all the doing.  So, really, (wink, wink) I’m making up for lost time.

Do yourself a favor today.  Remind yourself that your worth is not based on what you do.  It is based on Whose you are. You have been purchased at a great price.  Your value is unfathomable.  Sit down for a minute and fathom that.  Drink it in for a moment while you are being still.

I Corinthians 6:19-20

 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies.

It takes a team

One thread of this blog since its inception is my journey through healing.  In the summer of 2012, I noticed that my elbows hurt.  The first health professional I saw thought I had tennis elbow — even though I didn’t play tennis or do any other repetitive motion activity other than swiping my iPad. That fall I began to feel tired — reeeeeeeally tired.  As a full-time mom, teacher, school administrator, and basically busy person, I had no time to be tired.  I went to a second health professional who did some blood tests and told me I was fine.

Since I knew I wasn’t fine, I kept pushing and investigating until I landed in a rheumatology office where I was given the diagnosis — psoriatic arthritis.  By then I wasn’t just tired — I was achy and struggling with psoriasis, too. Over the next 18 months I was treated with a series of medications in an attempt to find the one that would allow me to feel the best with the least side effects. I also experimented with acupuncture, massage, and nutritional interventions. All the while, I was still working full time and preparing for a major move, my youngest daughter’s graduation from high school and my oldest daughter’s graduation from college.

Then we moved.  And, if you have been following this blog, you know I committed to some time of rest and recovery.

While resting and recovering, I saw new medical professionals who said I did NOT, in fact, have psoriatic arthritis, but probably fibromyalgia.  These doctors discontinued some of the meds I was on and suggested that I insert more exercise into my life including cardio (I was already walking and doing Pilates). I resisted the fibro diagnosis, got a gym membership, and started building my team.

Now, 3.5 years after my initial symptoms and 1.5 years after moving to Michigan, I am still on the path to healing, but I am not alone.  I have assembled quite a little network of professionals who are believing with me that my health can improve and, indeed, that my entire sense of well-being might be restored.  Let me introduce my team.

Rev. John Rathje, aka my dear husband, is chief executive in charge of encouragement.  From the beginning, he has believed my invisible symptoms are real, has accompanied me to appointments whenever I have asked, has heated flax seed pillows, purchased ice packs, rubbed sore muscles, and supported my couch sitting.  He also makes sure to remind me not to push too hard or do too much.

Rev. William Gatz is chief executive in charge of intercession.  Since the moment he heard of my diagnosis he has prayed daily for my complete recovery.  If you know Pastor Gatz, you know this is serious business.  He is a leader in prayer and intercession, especially prayer related to healing.  He also recommended that I read How Can I ask God for Physical Healing, which challenged some of my thoughts and affirmed others.

Dr. Mary Greiner, D.O. and Integrative Medicine Specialist, is the hub of my medical team.  She spends a great amount of time listening to me.  She takes a varied approach that includes, but is not limited to, pharmacology, homeopathy, nutrition, physical therapy, and lifestyle.  Most importantly she believes that I can experience a better quality of life than I have now and she is willing to walk with me until I get there.

Marcy Boughton, MS PT, is the physical therapy whisperer who is subtly coercing my body into healing itself.  She has manipulated my skull, my spine, my organs, my limbs, and, I dare say, my mind.  The woman is filled with the spirit of God — Biblical truth oozes from her as she applies her hands to my body.  It is really quite miraculous.  I have never experienced anything like it.  Once a week I spend an hour on her table and leave feeling energized and supported.  Marcy recommended that I read Dr. Gary Kaplan’s Total Recovery which is reshaping the way I think about health and the human body.

Dr. Greg Peroff, DC, is the chiropractic support member of this team.  He continually reminds my sacroiliac joint of where it is supposed to hang out and keeps my head screwed on straight. Like the others, he is committed to my overall well-being and applauds me as I walk down this path.

Of course I have other players — my eye doctor who treats the ocular herpes that resulted from my time on biologic medicines, my former therapist who walked with me before and during my diagnosis and helped me begin to see that my pursuit of health is not merely medical, but also psychological and spiritual, and a great team of family and friends. Soon I will be recruiting an acupuncturist and a massage therapist to round out this crew.

When I write it all down it seems a little excessive and somewhat selfish to need so many people. That is, when I look at it with my natural mind.  My natural mind wants to be self-sufficient and to soldier through any difficulty without the support of anyone else.  I want to kick butts and take names.

Good thing I also have the mind of Christ that reminds me that butt-kicking and name-taking contributed to me being in this position in the first place.  The mind of Christ reminds me that God connects us with others for a variety of reasons.  This team is supporting me, yes, and perhaps, in some way, I am also blessing them.

I didn’t choose the path of chronic illness, but I am choosing the path to wellness — body, soul, and spirit.  I am turning away from thinking with my natural mind, and turning toward the mind of Christ. Moment by moment, I am turning.

I Corinthians 2:14, 16

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.